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Thursday, May 23, 2013
If you are a turkey hunter in Virginia, you are probably pretty happy right now.
Figures released this week by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries show that this spring’s turkey season was the most productive ever.
The state’s gobbler chasers bagged 19,265 birds this season, which started with youth day on April 6, got going full bore on April 13, and closed at sunset this past Saturday.
That number doesn’t mean as much until you put it in perspective.
The increase over the previous record of 18,345, from 2002, was significant. But it was the jump over recent years’ take that really stands out.
The total increase over the 2012 season was a whopping 26 percent, the kind of increase rarely seen when tracking big game hunting totals without some kind of major season expansion.
Hunters west of the Blue Ridge range, a natural dividing line used by the DGIF, did even better than the statewide average.
They killed 6,271 birds, a bump of 31 percent.
Bedford County, as usual, was the top county in the state, producing 631 turkeys.
Primal as our passion may be, hunters still love to chew on stats like this and try to come up with theories about the whats and whys.
I didn’t have to dig too deep to come up with one conclusion: I really am a terrible turkey hunter.
I have long suspected this, after I gained a fair amount of experience but still had trouble getting it done out there.
Yet I held out a glimmer of hope that I really wasn’t that bad.
Maybe I was just unfortunate.
As proven by the fact that I spent a fair amount of time hunting during the best spring turkey season ever and still didn’t punch a tag, I’m bad.
Growing up we didn’t have turkeys to hunt in Oregon. I chased other critters and did OK. I didn’t start hunting them until I moved here.
My first shot at a spring gobbler set the tone.
My friend Freddy McGuire called the thing in to shotgun range, hissed “Shoot!” and I promptly threw a load of 4 shot over the bird’s head.
I’m reminded of that hunt frequently because McGuire named the spot Jinx Ridge, and his hunting reports to me frequently refer to adventures up there.
Feeling sorry for me, McGuire and others took me on their personal projects like a coach who spends extra time working with the kid who has no talent but who tries really hard.
These charitable souls called in turkeys for me, and I actually killed them. I even killed one on Jinx Ridge.
In fact, I haven’t missed a spring bird since that first whiff.
But killing a turkey that someone else calls in is sort of like reeling in a fish that someone else hooks before handing you the rod and reel.
It’s better than nothing, but the sense of accomplishment is, shall we say, somewhat diminished.
Several years ago I vowed to start hunting more on my own. No one can call in a turkey for me if I’m hunting alone, right?
I thought my calling was OK. Not that it really matters.
My friend Gerald Austin — one of the aforementioned charitable Taylor spring turkey guides — likes to say that when a turkey is in the mood to come in, you can pound on a hollow log and it will come in.
Eventually I was going to run in to one of those turkeys, right?
Well, this spring, I did.
On opening day I called in a hen, but that hen just happened to have a big gobbler following her.
I was hoping to get the bird in front of the friend who was hunting with me — pretty ironic that I was the guide, huh? — so I had my gun in my lap when the bird made a brief appearance 15 yards from me. I wasn’t ready to shoot and my friend couldn’t see the bird.
But, hey, things were looking up.
A few days later I called in two more legal birds, but they were 1-year-old jakes so I held off.
Future hunts always turned up a few birds that were willing to gobble some, but none committed.
Meanwhile a growing army of friends shared their stories of success.
That some of those friends are not very experienced spring turkey hunters was like pouring salt on my wounded pride.
I didn’t hunt a ton, like some of those serious turkey nuts. But I hunted enough to qualify as trying.
So the record season ended and my streak of solo futility remains intact.
I’ve said before after unfruitful spring turkey seasons that I could take the easy way out and take the approach I took to golf.
I gave it a try. It kicked my butt. I moved on.
But this is different.
Playing bad golf wasn’t fun.
Turkey hunting is a blast.
Even when you’re not pulling the trigger.
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